After staying relatively unscathed for over three months — the earliest reported symptoms occurred in December 2019 in the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, China — the coronavirus panic has hit India. The case count at home is 28, and though the global mortality rate is still at 3.4 per cent — with the elderly having a chronic illness such as cardiovascular disease being at particular risk — state administrations have got into a tizzy in Telangana, Karnataka, Rajasthan, indeed wherever patients have been diagnosed as having this influenza-like infection. Apart from China, Iran and South Korea have emerged as hubs of the disease, the death toll in the US is rising and a Group of Union Ministers met today to review steps taken by the ministries of health, shipping, external affairs, civil aviation and home affairs regarding its management. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal assured the public that there were sufficient N95 masks at hand.
However, a large part of the anxiety, especially at the level of the citizen, is needless. The virus, for instance, is grounded and not transmitted by air. Washing one’s hands with soap and water, and drinking and gargling with warm water will do the trick. Drugs oseltamivir with lopinavir and ritonavir as well as chloroquine have proved effective against this disease. And the vector for the virus is not poultry — falling prices of chicken notwithstanding — but bats. The home minister can go ahead and have his Holi party, should he feel like, post the Delhi riot.
But as the virus and the fear surrounding it continues to spread — summer is still a month away when the ambient temperature will prove to be the end of it — so too are such bogus claims and, no surprise, conspiracy theories. Since the outbreak of CoViD-19, heightened prejudice, xenophobia and racism against people of Chinese and East Asian descent have been rife. But like any other disease, the coronavirus cannot merely be resisted from without, by stocking up on masks, for instance, but, equally, from within. Which brings us to the question, how good is the health infrastructure in the loneliest village of India?